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The Unwanted - Episode 1

More than 115 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses.
VOA looks at three stories from the epidemic.))
((Banner: Heroin Hell: Part 1))
((Producers: Chris Simkins, Jeff Swicord, Jacquelyn De Phillips))
((Camera: Jeff Swicord, Chris Simkins, Marcus Harton))
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania))
The following program contains images that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.))
((Locator: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania))
((Eric, Addicted to Heroin))

When I was 16, I sniffed my first bag of heroin. And you know, I dabbled in it here and there from then on. When I was just about to be 20, I started shooting it, you know, and off to the races.
In the blink of an eye, you can get caught up. And if you've been addicted or you are addicted, it's a battle for your soul to stay alive every day, and to not have something bad happen to you. Here I am. Lost everything I own again. I'm not going on another year or two run. I don't have it in me. I got tore up so quick and it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. And I just, I can't, I can't do this no more.
((Locator: Frankford Avenue Underpass, Kensington, Philadelphia))
((Eric, Addicted to Heroin))

Living down here under the bridge, people steal from each other. People use each other. They live disgusting. They throw their needles. It’s just too much.
If you're a drug addict to what I call the dark drugs: coke, crack, meth, heroin. This is like f****** Disneyland. It's like a big shopping mall for narcotics. They are like stores on all the corners. All these people aren't from the city or haven't lived here for decades. You don't need to know somebody. All you need to know is come here. And they came here for one reason. They didn't go home and they're living here. School kids shouldn't have to see that every day.

For the most part of my addiction, I had no problems. It's been rough the last five years. I'm falling apart. My leg is getting eat up again.
Hopefully I can get my life to a point where, you know, I'm working on the other side, you know what I mean? Not out there getting high but out there helping people, because I'm good at that. You know what I mean? I'm good at that.
((Inspector Raymond Convery, Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))
Here in Philadelphia, we have four bridges that were being used as encampments. We started this project back in January and have been working with the outreach people and with the Philadelphia Police Department to connect with these people to try to get them to go into treatment. It was very important for us to be able to do it in a dignified way. They don’t want to be there but they need help. We did a pilot program where we attempted to move two of the bridges.
Inspector Raymond Convery
: Good morning,
Woman off camera: Three seconds.
Inspector Raymond Convery: All right, I’m just going to read something to you. Just so you are aware.
Woman off camera: Can you please just give us a moment?
Inspector Raymond Convery: I am. Legally I’ve got to let you know what we are doing, that’s all.
Inspector Raymond Convery: We needed the people to get help. Living underneath a railroad bridge has got to be close to rock bottom.
Inspector Raymond Convery: You were notified that you had to remove your property and leave this location no later than 10:00 a.m. this morning.
Woman: Drugs doesn’t give you a choice.
Inspector Raymond Convery: The community itself don't want the encampments in the neighborhood because they have to deal with the trash, the smell, and everything else.
Man 1: I don't want to see this every day. I don't get to move. We paying taxes here.
Man 2: That's right. We’re the taxpayers.
Man 1: We got to move? Move for what? Because we want to see this? You all should just get up and leave. The city's been trying. We got the outsiders trying. We got the church out here trying to help you all. And all you all do is take the money and keep getting drugged up.
Man 2: That's right.
Man 1: There’s plenty of help out there.
Man 2: They don’t want it. They want to f****** party all day long. That’s your f******* drugs, just party.
Inspector Raymond Convery: But there's also advocates here in the neighborhood that say let's get them the help.
Man 3: Guess what. Not everybody that’s out here’s willing to give up drugs today. So, let’s give them somewhere to live first and then work on those substance use issues. There’s no quick fix. 30 days? That’s a quick fix. That’s a microwave fix right here. You understand what I’m saying?
Inspector Raymond Convery: We would like to be able to get the whole opioid market out of this area but there is a supply and demand issue here. If we can eliminate some of that demand, then the supply will go away. We had over a 100 people go into treatment over the last month. That’s one hundred less buyers.
((Inspector Raymond Convery, Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))
That's going to put some of these drug dealers out of business.
((Locator: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania))
Inspector Raymond Convery
: How are you today?
Kid: I’m doing good sir.
Inspector Raymond Convery: My name is Ray. How are you? How are you today?
Kid off camera: Hi Officer.
Inspector Raymond Convery: Hello!
((Inspector Raymond Convery, Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))
The areas here in Kensington have some very strong community groups and we work very well with them. The police department can't do it by itself.
((Locator: McPherson Square Park, Kensington, Philadelphia))
((Inspector Raymond Convery, Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))

There's a library behind us. In recent years past, you would see no kids in this park at all because it was nothing but people using drugs, hanging out, sleeping on the benches and just in their stupor of the drugs. As you can see, we came in, we did an initiative in here, so now we have a clean park. The difference is the houses all along here on the outside, all of these people really care. So, they help me.
Neighbor Lady:
I watched this from my door. This young lady died, okay, and that bothers me. So that’s why I say, every time I see them stretched out, I got to call.
Inspector Raymond Convery: That had to be a long time ago.
Neighbor Lady: No this was last week. This was last, yes. I had to flag the ambulance down.
Inspector Raymond Convery: Yes, I don’t doubt that.
Neighbor Lady: This was last week.
Inspector Raymond Convery: I didn’t have anybody die in the park last week.
((Inspector Raymond Convery, Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))
I need to know the person out there in the community that's willing to speak to us even anonymously. My bosses and the Mayor said, “Let’s clean this park up.” We need a place for little kids to play. I have bikes now that go through there. They keep an eye on the park. The streets around there are pretty good. Last summer the kids had summer programs in there. Kids were in the park playing all summer. If the community helps me, then we can hold it down.
((NATS: Britt Carpenter, Philly Unknown Project; and Kelly, Addicted to Heroin))
((Britt Carpenter, Philly Unknown Project))

When I walk up to somebody like Kelly, what I'm trying to accomplish is making their day just a little bit better. I want to give them a little bit of hope that there’s faith in humanity and that people out there that will connect with them and do believe in them, because that's what they're really looking for.
: How long have you been down here?
Kelly: Too long.
Britt: Too long?
Kelly: Yeah.
Britt: Yeah. What brought you to the streets?
Kelly: Drugs.
Britt: Yeah. Are you actively using?
Kelly: Yeah.
Britt: What are you using?
Kelly: Heroin and crack.
Britt: Have you sought out any type of treatment?
Kelly: Ah, yeah.
Britt: How many times?
Kelly: Not that many.
Britt: No?
Kelly: Because I'm not going to waste a spot if I don't think I'm going to actually try. I had eight years clean.
Britt: You know eight years is a long time to be clean and then end up back here.
Kelly: Yeah.
Britt: Where were you for those eight years?
Kelly: I was in school, working, had my own place.
Britt: Can I ask you how you get the money to…
Kelly: Ahhh,
Britt:…to use?
Kelly: Any kind of way really.
Britt: You hustle.
Kelly: Yeah.
Britt: Not the way you want to live your life, huh?
Kelly: No.
Britt: No? When you're out here, you've got your socks, you’ve got your sneakers, you've got your clothes. What else you got?
Kelly: Not much of anything.
Britt: What about food?
Kelly: Food is…'s there.
Britt: If you've been on the streets for any amount of time, you got to be strong. Why the no?
Kelly: Takes a stronger person to walk away.
Britt: You did it before.
Kelly: I did.
Britt: I think you could do it again.
Kelly: I...I...But for what?
Britt: You tell me for what?
Kelly: I don't. I don't know. I don't have the answer to that.
Britt: That’s what going into recovery does for you. You learn the transitional aspects of going back to the life that you knew, or a new life that you are going to create for yourself. You know what you’re doing is you are actually talking yourself out of it by saying, “for what.” It’s for you, for your mother that we talked about.
((Britt Carpenter, Philly Unknown Project))
I knew it’s going to take a lot longer and a lot more time than that for her to be able to say, “Yes, I want to fully get off this, get off the streets.” But there is hope, you know, and if anything, we provide them that by being out there in the streets, we provide them hope.
((Locator: Tulip St Underpass Eviction, Kensington, Philadelphia))
((Inspector Raymond Convery; Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))

The encampments down there became like a family and we decided that we could move a family into treatment as opposed to trying to just get different individuals, where one says, “I won't go unless my girlfriend goes.”
((NATS Evicted Couple))
All right hold on. Let me get this thing here.
Man: We've been wanting to leave since day one we got down here, just didn't. You know you keep procrastinating, oh, we'll do it tomorrow, we'll do it tomorrow, we'll do it tomorrow. And then we got up and now we had to get up today and have to go.
Man’s wife: No, no, no. That’s all going. I went through all that.
Man: I get to go and try to get clean and do what I want to do. I get to know that she's going somewhere safe and this nightmare is over. It’s over. It’s done.
Inspector Raymond Convery: Watch out. Don’t step on the needles, please.
((Inspector Raymond Convery; Commanding Officer, East Philadelphia Police Division))
I did a head count last night and a lot of the residents from the other two bridges moved to the two bridges that we currently have. That's part of what we expected to happen, because not everybody went into treatment.
Inspector Raymond Convery: The less people that want heroin, then the market will dry up.
Inspector Raymond Convery:
Just by pass. We’ll come back and get him. Got to get more people into treatment.
((Britt Carpenter, Philly Unknown Project))
Moving them is very positive, moving them out not so positive because with those hundred people, they really only had 60 some beds. You got to have enough beds in the city for treatment. The fact of the matter is most of them aren't ready for that. Most of them don't want that. The streets are all they know. If they're not coming up with the plan B as to where they're moving them to, they're going to find somewhere else in the city to go.
: There’s a lot of people that aren’t getting this chance to get out of here. In just the last two months, I can’t tell you all of the people that did overdose and are dead. It sucks.
((Britt Carpenter, Philly Unknown Project; and Kelly, Addicted to Heroin))
: I want to just share something with you.
Kelly: Okay.
Britt: What if I told you that if you wanted to, you could go somewhere and they call it, it's called 23 hour observation to assess what's going on and see how much detox you may need or anything. And you have I.D. No insurance of course.
Kelly: Right. But the idea of…
Britt: Oh, there's that but.
Kelly: Self-inflicted withdrawal is not…
Britt: But see you're already making up, conjuring up pictures of what it's going to be like.
Kelly: No, and that is a big issue. To me, it sounds like I'm just not ready.
Britt: You know, I just want you to think about what you told me. You told me that out here on the streets, you don't really have any friends.
Kelly: No.
Britt: You don't trust anybody. You trust yourself?
Kelly: Not always.
Britt: OK. That's a really tough position to be in. You know to have that self-loathing aspect to yourself. So, there's another aspect to it, ok? You told me about the food. You told me how you don't like to really do the hustling anymore. You don't want to do this stuff. So, think of all that when you're listing those pros and cons.
Kelly: Will do.
Britt: And when I come back, then we'll talk.
Kelly: All right.
Britt: All right?
Kelly: Yep.
Britt: You walking back this way?
Kelly: Yep.
Britt: Come on.
Kelly: Did you see the artwork on the tent?
Britt: Yeah I did. Who did the clouds?
Kelly: I did.
Britt: Did you do that?
Kelly: Yeah.
Britt: It's because you like to draw.
Living America’s Opioid Nightmare.
Continues on VOA Connect in the weeks to come))